Fly the Lightning
Dedicated Commercial Launch
February 20, 2024
Firefly has completed the flight data review for Alpha FLTA004 and submitted the Mishap Investigation Report to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determining root cause and corrective actions after Alpha’s second stage did not achieve the target orbit for payload deployment on December 22, 2023.
As part of the investigation, Firefly established a Mishap Investigation Team as well as an Independent Review Team, including key stakeholders from the FAA, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Lockheed Martin, NASA, and the U.S. Space Force to serve as external oversight for full transparency. The investigation determined the mishap was due to an error in the Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) software algorithm that prevented the system from sending the necessary pulse commands to the Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters ahead of the stage two engine relight.
Despite these challenges, Alpha deployed the payload in an orbit that allowed our mission partner to successfully complete their primary mission objectives, including rapid commissioning of the satellite following insertion. Firefly is now implementing corrective actions to ensure the GNC software issue is resolved, including process changes to detect and prevent similar issues in the future. Alpha will be ready to fly again in the coming months.
“We’re proud of the combined team’s ability to work together to achieve this positive outcome,” said Bill Weber, CEO of Firefly Aerospace. “Looking ahead, the important long-term outcome is the rapid, thorough maturation of Alpha as the dependable one metric ton class rocket the market is demanding, which Firefly is dedicated to and is delivering.”
December 22, 2023
Firefly’s Alpha FLTA004 launch had a successful liftoff and progressed seamlessly through each stage of flight, including stage one main engine cutoff (MECO), stage separation, stage two ignition, fairing separation, and the first second stage engine cutoff (SECO). Following SECO 1, Alpha’s scheduled stage two engine relight did not deliver the payload to its precise target orbit. However, communication to the spacecraft has been established and mission operations are now underway.
Firefly recognizes all that went into preparation of the payload and would like to thank Lockheed Martin for their continued support. In line with our core principles as a company, we will rapidly and continuously innovate to find a solution and ensure complete resolution of any anomaly we see during flight. We will work with our customer and government partners to investigate the stage two performance and determine the root cause. As more information is available, we will be providing updates here.
Firefly’s Alpha rocket launched Lockheed Martin’s new wideband Electronically Steerable Antenna (ESA) technology integrated on a Terran Orbital Nebula satellite bus. Developed within Lockheed Martin Space’s Ignite organization using a proprietary design, the ESA payload was built to demonstrate faster on-orbit sensor calibration to deliver rapid capabilities to U.S. warfighters. Following payload deployment, Lockheed Martin completed all primary mission objectives and successfully demonstrated the ESA capability. The payload team also advanced the technology readiness level for a range of mission applications after completing more than 100 on-orbit tests.
The following graphic shows an approximate timeline (HH:MM:SS) for the key mission milestones.
Firefly hosted the Alpha FLTA004 Fly the Lightning livestream in collaboration with NASA Spaceflight.
Launch photos and video of the mission are available on Flickr: Alpha FLTA004 Fly the Lightning.